Yarrow: From Garden Weed To Powerful Medicinal Plant
November 4, 2019
Yarrow’s white corymbs flabbily dance on a hot and dry summer day, filling the air with a bewitching and suave aroma.
This hardy plant feels at ease pretty much everywhere and thrives in a wide range of climates and soil conditions. The poorer the soil it grows in, the stronger its potency and the scent of its oils will be. A garden weed by nature, it tends to spread quickly! If you are lucky enough to find yarrow growing in your gardens, think twice before throwing it on the compost pile. It is a powerful plant that has much to offer.
We have long been taking advantage of yarrow’s medicinal properties. Archaeologists discovered its pollen in Neanderthal burial caves, suggesting that its association with the human race is nearly 60,000 years old! During that time, yarrow has been part of folklore and many myths, legends, and supernatural beliefs. Its involvement in our history and culture proves how valuable and previous this plant is.
Yarrow, or Achillea millefolium, was named after the Greek mythical hero, Achilles, who used it to heal his soldiers during the war. The plant was also called Herba militaris in classical times because of its ability to stop bleeding on the battlefield.
Why We Love It
With white or light pink flowers, wild yarrow is best suited for medicinal use. The brightly colored cultivars, flashy pink or bright red, are not as valuable. Yarrow’s benefits and uses are as many as the flowers on the corymbs. Medicinally, the plant is a panacea; with more than 40 chemical constituents, yarrow is complex, bioactive, and versatile with many virtues.
Soldier’s Woundwort or Carpenter’s Weed, other names given to yarrow, say a lot about its properties. The styptic and antihemorrhagic properties of yarrow are quite impressive. The leaves and the flowers can stop bleeding and work well on even deep cuts and wounds. The antiseptic properties of the plant also help disinfect injured tissues.
How To Use It
A poultice of fresh mashed leaves and flowers can be applied directly to the wound, but drops of the tincture can be used as well. An alcohol-based tincture, where the plant properties have been extracted, is an excellent addition to the medicine cabinet, coming in handy when an injury occurs outside of the growing season.
How To Make It
Making the tincture is quite easy:
- Fill a glass jar with wilted plant material, including the flowers and leaves.
- Cover the material entirely with vodka.
- Tightly cap and label the jar before placing it in a dark cabinet for four to six weeks.
- Shake the jar from time to time to help the extraction process along.
- After the steeping period, strain and discard the plant material and pour the tincture into a labeled glass bottle with a dropper or spray nozzle.
To help a minor cut or scratch, spray or add a few drops until the blood stops flowing.
Taken as a tea, the bitter constituents of the plant will help digestion, encouraging the bile to flow and increase the appetite. The same cup of tea can also help reduce a fever or fight a cold by stimulating the body to sweat. Diaphoretic plants like yarrow will move the blood circulation toward the surface of the body, helping to cool it down, while also reinforcing the immune system.
A strong infusion of yarrow can help heal skin conditions such as eczema. The astringent and anti-inflammatory virtues of this plant will also work wonders in one’s skincare routine.
Yarrow can also be a great ally of women when taken internally. It can help relieve menstruation pain, reduce heavy menstrual bleeding, and even eliminate pelvic congestion.
While this weed is best known for its medicinal properties, it can be also used in many other ways. In the garden, yarrow’s pungent odor is a very effective pest repellent but also attracts beneficial insects and pollinators. Some people even rub yarrow flowers directly on their skin or on their clothes to repel pesky mosquitos!
Do your research and seek advice from a doctor or healthcare provider before using any medicinal plant. Medicinal weeds or plants can all have side effects under certain health circumstances. Yarrow might cause an allergic reaction or photosensitization in very sensitive people. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also refrain from using yarrow, as this herb may induce a miscarriage and may have unknown effects on a child.
It is also imperative to do rigorous research before foraging wild plants or weeds. Yarrow has two look-alikes; Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is deadly if consumed, and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), which is safe. Confusing these three plants is unlikely when you know what you are looking for, so be sure to be well-informed before enjoying the marvelous medicinal virtues of the beloved yarrow!
For more in our “Medicinal Weeds” series: